What do Americans think the federal minimum wage should be?


Americans are in favor of raising the minimum wage well above $20, according to a new poll.

Yesterday (May 24), Data for Progress, a progressive think tank, published the results of a survey in which US voters were asked how much a person needs to earn to have a “decent quality of life.” “Decent” was defined as the ability to cover expenses for bills and necessities “without struggling.”

Out of 1,244 respondents, 63% agreed that an individual would need to make more than $20 per hour. Democrats, on average, responded with $27.50, while Independents and Republicans responded with an average of $25.50, for a net average of $26 per hour.

Only 1% of the surveyed voters agreed that $10 an hour is enough to make a living, while 6% thought $15 or under would be sufficient.

Charted: Bipartisan support for a federal minimum wage above $20 per hour

Inflation has gone up, but the federal minimum wage has stayed fixed

The current federal minimum wage is $7.25. It was set in 2009—a full 14 years ago—making the period since then the longest the US has gone without a rise in statutory pay. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that the minimum wage today has 17% less purchasing power than it did 10 years ago, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that one 2023 dollar is worth just $0.71 in 2009 dollars.

States have set higher minimum wages, but they all fall short of $20

Dean Baker, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a progressive think tank, said in 2021 that the minimum wage should be $23 per hour if kept in line with the US’s growth in economic productivity.

But no state, as yet, reaches that level of minimum pay. California’s minimum wage is currently the highest, at $15.50, while the District of Columbia has a minimum wage of $16.50, set to be increased to $17 on July 1 this year.

In 2021, president Joe Biden raised the minimum wage for federal contractors to $15 per hour, while this year dozens of states raised their minimum wage, although they stayed mostly under the $15 mark.

Bernie Sanders has a $17 per hour minimum wage plan

Earlier this month, senator Bernie Sanders announced a plan to increase the federal minimum wage to $17 per hour over the span of five years. The bill is set to be introduced on June 14 by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

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